Tag Archives: saving food dollars

The Quarantine Continues: Day 3 :ALL ABOUT HUMMUS

The news gets worse by the day and my heart aches for my hometown of NYC which is reeling from this pandemic and it looks like things are bound to get worse before they get better.  That said I hope everyone is staying put and only venturing out to exercise.  Now my vegan daughter eats a lot of hummus and it is no surprise that the large container, pint sized, I purchased on my last venture to the store which was Friday March 20th, was completely gone by Tuesday afternoon.  I have decided I will wait until Sunday, so I can also pick up a copy of the Sunday New York Times which I am dying to read,  before I venture to my small locally owned grocery, which I have heard has the best cleaning policies around. So we are stuck eating whats on hand.

Lucky for her I did have a bag of dried chickpeas, which I had set out to soak in cool water overnight. The next morning I rinsed them in cool water and then placed them in a stock pot and covered them with water, added a bit of himalayan salt, a 1/4 tsp baking soda and cranked the heat.  Let them boil away for 20 mins or so and be sure to skim any of the foam that gets produced.  Once they are soft remove from heat, drain in a colander and  rinse with cool water.

Now for those of you that don’t normally soak and cook your beans you will be amazed at the amount that $1.00 1lb bag of garbanzo beans turned into. So I took half the beans and placed them on a cookie sheet where I tossed them in oil and sprinkled them with my family’s  favorite new seasoning from Trader Joe’s and roasted them at 350 for 30 to 40 mins until crispy.

Now take the rest of the beans and using a food processor, blender, or even an immersion blender which is what I used since my large food processor is at my work kitchen, blend the remaining beans, a few garlic cloves, the juice of 1 lemon, 2 tbs. of peanut butter or tahini, 2 tbs of olive oil.  Keep blending and drizzle warm salt water into the mixture until you reach your perfect creamy consistency.  The best part is this makes about a quart of hummus and a pint of delicious roasted chickpeas which I hope will tide us over until I decide to make my next venture out in public.

A Guide to Surviving Week # 2 in Quarantine

Many of us are starting week #2 of quarantine and trying our best to establish an actual routine.  So many of us thrive on routine, knowing what to expect and executing those tasks as needed.  This idleness, loss of purpose for those of us who are supposed to be at work or school is rough.  Sure we do some work remotely, but let’s not kid ourselves, it isn’t the same and we are all grieving our fundamental loss, our sense of purpose.

In the past we have heard retirees complain they are bored  and we say to ourselves, “are you crazy?” what I would give to have some time.  Well your wish has been granted because all of a sudden so many of us have more time than we know what to do with. For some of us this extra time will be a gift.  Time to finish projects long put off, maybe start a new hobby we have been wanting to try but simply didn’t have time, maybe you just love to read and now is your chance.

That said even these diversions can only hold us so long and finding a routine is the only way we will all survive this.  Feeding ourselves is one of  our most basic routines and I keep hearing from parents during this time that they feel like all they do is feed their families.  While this is probably true, I am grateful to at least have that purpose and am trying to make the best of it.  So I am sharing some recipes that we made yesterday.  Empanadas, which were essentially filled with the turkey meat from Saturday night’s tacos and for the plant based folks we filled them with the black bean and hominy filling from the same taco night.  Use whatever you have on hand for filling, this is a time to be sure to use everything you have on hand and WASTE NOTHING!!!!!!!!!! Empanadas are fun for the whole family to make, in fact once you make the dough, let everyone fill them themselves and don’t worry if you don’t have a fancy press to make them.  Simply cut the dough into circles and fill one side, fold over into the shape of a half-moon and press the edges with a fork.

So let’s try and make the best of all this and may this recipe bring your family some happiness through small acts such as this.

EMPANADAS

DOUGH

2 ½ tsp. Active dry yeast

1 ½ tsp. Sugar

½ cup milk

2 eggs beaten

1/3 cup sour cream

5 tbs. unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 ½ cup All-purpose flour

1 ¼ cup Cornmeal

¾ tsp Salt

  1. In a large mixing bowl place yeast with sugar and ¼ cup of milk and let rest of 5 min to activate the yeast
  2. Once it appears foamy go ahead and add the remaining milk, eggs and sour cream and butter
  3. In another bowl stir together flour, cornmeal and salt and using an electric mixer beat flour mixture into egg and milk mixture until the dough is smooth and elastic
  4. Form the dough into a large ball and place in an oil bowl and turn to coat with oil
  5. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 ½ hours and the ounch down the dough

FILLING

Traditionally empanada filling is made with beef or pork but to give a bit of a healthier twist we are making our empanadas with ground turkey. Like most fillings you can swap out and change some ingredients just be sure to keep the balance of flavors and textures the same. It is important to make sure the filling is moist but not wet or you will end up with some soggy empanadas.

1 medium onion finely chopped

1tbs garlic minced

2 jalapeno peppers minced (optional)

2 tsp. ground cumin

1 tbs. Chili powder

1 tbs. Dried oregano

½ tsp. Cinnamon

1/8 tsp. ground Cloves

2 tbs. Oil for cooking

1 lb ground turkey

¼ cup tomato paste

28 oz can diced tomatoes

1/3 cup raisins

½ cup pimento stuffed olives chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Over medium heat saute onions in oil until soft and add garlic, jalapenos, chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, clove and oregano
  2. After 3 min add ground turkey and cook until browned, breaking up any lumps
  3. Add tomato product, olives,raisins and salt and pepper to taste
  4. Simmer for additional 15 mins until the liquid has evaporated

PUTTING THE EMPANADAS TOGETHER

pre-heat oven to 425

take dough and seperate into 24 balls and cover with a damp cloth

on a lightly floured surface roll each ball into a flat circle, use a knife or cookie cutter for the edges

Place a small amount of filling on one side of the circle and fold over the other side to form a turnover, crimp the edges

Cook on an oiled baking sheet for 10-15 mins. Until golden brown

The Weekly Optimal Planner

Welcome to the First  Weekly Optimal Planner

After more than a decade running the Optimal Kitchen I think I may have finally come up with what we all actually need to maintain a healthy everyday diet. Even mainstream experts have caught on to the fact that trendy diets and food fads simply don’t work. They are not sustainable. We need to eat whole, primarily plant based food everyday. We can allow ourselves the occasional treat now and again, but be reasonable. This first month is a trial guide and please give me feedback which will allow me to make changes to better suit what you all want.

Feeding ourselves and our families isn’t rocket science but there is so much information, often conflicting, that it is almost impossible to not feel overwhelmed just going grocery shopping. I hope to provide you with a weekly framework to make your life a whole lot easier and more importantly tastier! Some recipes or ideas maybe outside your box but I promise all the recipes are easy, have been tested (not all recipes you find on-line are!) so that they work and taste great. Feel free to tweak recipes if you have food allergies or intolerances, but I do encourage you to try new things, maybe even things you didn’t like in the past.

Since the goal is to make weekly shopping and cooking easy we will aim to share ingredients in multiple recipes so there is little waste. The Optimal Planner also accounts for the fact that most people eat out a couple of times per week, consider these your cheat meals. The planner is based on 3 meals a day because that is what we should be eating essentially. If snacks are a big part of your families diet than those would be additional to the recipes and suggestions in the weekly Optimal Planner.

Breakfast is very different for individuals and is one meal that I find personal tastes and habits play a huge role. There are those who like smoothies, or maybe cereal, or eggs and avocado toast. It is also the meal I find that people eat the same thing almost daily, and you know what that is ok. Personally I am an avocado toast kinda gal and I admit I don’t always eat breakfast and when I do it is usually 4 or 5 hours after I wake up, keep in mind though I am a very early riser and cook for a living so that schedule works for me, but not most. Though I do think many people simply aren’t that hungry first thing, but become ravenous mid morning. Keep this in mind and if this is you, be sure you are prepared. The worst thing is to be hungry at 10am and then just wait until lunchtime at which point you are starving and end up eating way to much and not feeling great for the majority of the afternoon as a result.

Lunch should be your most calorie dense meal of the day, and is where you should consume the bulk of your starchy carbohydrates because you will have all afternoon and evening to use that energy. This is often a hard concept to wrap our heads around because we are so used to having a big meal at dinner. Change is challenging but shifting your caloric load to earlier in the day actually can have a significant impact on your health from promoting better digestion to improved sleep patterns.

Dinner is as much about connecting with our families as feeding them. If your family consists of growing kids, especially adolescents, I will often suggest adding perhaps a loaf of bread or a bowl of pasta or something else to satiate those never ending appetites, but remember just because you are living with growing kids who need a significant caloric load doesn’t mean you do.

The ideas and recipes below are suggestions to help make meal prep throughout the week simple and easy. The shopping list includes fruit recommendations based on grocery store sales and variety. Many of the recipes will leave you with leftovers so you can enjoy multiple meals. It is also much easier to have some kind of theme or region to base recipes on so that you can share ingredients. This week we feature Mediterranean inspired dishes which share some ingredients. It is crucial to remember that eating a varied diet is key to providing our bodies with the nutrients they need to thrive. Fruit is meant for breakfast and snacking. If smoothies are part of your everyday diet use frozen fruit for cost savings and ease, though limit to 3-4 per week and always add some greens and veggies!

Recipes and Meal Planning Ideas:

Breakfast is just the first meal of your day whatever time that may happen. After lots of back and forth about how many times a day we should eat, 3 meals a day is sufficient. If you are genuinely hungry, meaning you tried a glass of water first, have a snack, but this all day snacking is a big part of our struggles with food. Traditional breakfast foods are a completely modern phenomenon and you can eat whatever you want, if you want a salad have one. I often will just have last night’s leftovers. The key to every meal is to have plenty of fiber, from fruits, vegetables, and grains, some protein and a bit of fat, whatever form that takes is up to you.

Breakfast Suggestions:

AVOCADO TOAST, opt for sprouted breads, real whole grain (Dave’s is good) or sourdough

EGGS any way but a great do ahead the night before is a FRITTATA

SPINACH, POTATO AND MUSHROOM FRITTATTA

2 cups fresh Spinach

1 cup mushrooms, whatever variety you like

1 cup roasted new potatoes, or some of each

1 large shallot sliced

8 eggs

¼ cup flax meal or oat bran

¼ cup Fresh Herbs, spring chives are a favorite, parsley, thyme or basil

¼ cup shredded cheese, cheddar, mozzarella or even goat cheese (optional)

Oil for cooking

  1. Beat eggs and stir in fresh herbs

  2. In an oven safe fry pan toss in shallots and mushrooms in a bit of olive oil and saute until mushrooms begin to soften and shallots become translucent

  3. Add spinach and potatoes and cook for another minute or two

  4. pour in egg mixture (be sure pan is large enough or put vegetable mixture into a baking dish, be sure it is coated with cooking spray and then add eggs and put directly in oven)

  5. cook for a few minutes on the stove, bringing up the edges, sprinkle on cheese and place in a 375 degree oven until firm when shaken. If pouring the mixture into a baking pan the cooking time will be increased about 8 mins.

  6. Let cool for a few minutes before cutting and serving to allow it to tighten up.

Frittatas are a great way to use up extra veggies, both raw and cooked and still get yourself a solid dose of protein making it and ideal dish for any meal of the day. I often use oat bran or bread crumbs to help bind it and make it a bit more solid, but if you are gluten free you can easily just use potatoes, grated or shredded potatoes are great for this! Simply start with the egg base, keep proportions in line and keep in mind this recipe can easily be cut in half or even quartered,and just as easily doubled, then just go from there. Be sure to cook vegetables, especially those with a high water content before adding to the dish, I guarantee even the barest of fridges can yield some treats that will suit a fritatta.

Panko

Parsley

Asparagus

Tomato

Onions

Cheddar

Oat Bran

Rosemary

Broccoli

Olives

Garlic

Mozzarella

Shredded Potato

Basil

Zucchini

Spinach

Scallions

Goat Cheese

Wheat Germ

Oregano

Red Pepper

Roasted Potatos

Chives

Feta

Flax Meal

Rosemary

Mushroom

Green Beans

Leeks

Gruyere

Aim to have one from each column but by all means throw in lots of mixed fresh herbs and veggies to use up what you have on hand.

SMOOTHIE/SMOOTHIE BOWL, be sure to add greens like spinach or kale and other vegetables like cucumber or celery to cut down on the sugars. Also add some fiber and protein with choices like flax meal, chia seeds, hemp seeds or nuts. If you choose to use a protein powder opt for plant based fiber rich varieties.

OATMEAL

Classic 5 minute oats are a great way to start your day because they are high in fiber and protein that work to fuel you and keep you full. Add nuts, berries even some dried fruits for extra flavor and maybe a drizzle of maple syrup or honey for a touch of sweetness

LUNCH SUGGESTIONS:

WHITE BEAN AND BASIL HUMMUS (great in wrap with lettuce and tomato, or as a dip for veggies or chips )

½ lb. (1 cup) white navy beans or 1 can rinsed

4 to 5 cloves of garlic

¼ cup basil threads

zest juice from 1 lemon

olive oil

sea salt and cracked pepper to taste

1.soak beans overnight

2.rinse beans, place in pot and cover with water, cook for approx. 20-25 until beans are tender but not mushy

3.place garlic, basil, lemon zest and juice and beans in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth, when necessary drizzle in olive oil and a bit of water to obtain proper consistency

WHITE BEAN TOMATO AND GREENS STEW

1 lb of winter greens (kale, spinach, cabbage or a combo)

1 lg can diced tomatoes

1 large can of white beans, rinsed and drained or 2 cups of soaked and cooked dry beans

3-5 cloves of garlic

1 quart vegetable stock

½ cup fresh herbs (parsley, basil, oregano or a combo)

olive oil for cooking

salt and pepper for seasonings

  1. saute greens in olive oil over med/high heat until they begin to wilt then add the garlic
  2. once the greens have been reduced to half add the tomatoes and lower heat to a simmer
  3. add white beans, the rest of the tomatoes and vegetable stock and continue cooking for an additional 10-15 mins until flavors have melded
  4. season with salt and pepper and then add the fresh herbs before serving.

ORZO TOMATO AND SPINACH SALAD

1 box of orzo

1 pint of cherry tomatoes halved or any tomato diced

several cups of fresh spinach

½ cup olive oil

¼ cup red wine vinegar

¼ cup basil threads

2 cloves garlic minced (opt)

sea salt and pepper to taste

  1. Cook off orzo and run cool water over the pasta to cool it down
  2. Toss pasta with the rest of the ingredients and serve at room temperature

BEANS AND GREENS

1 box pasta penne, farfalle or whatever type you like

1 15 ounce can white beans beans or chickpeas

a few cups fresh spinach

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

olive oil for cooking

fresh or dried basil or oregano for seasoning

¼ cup shredded parmesan, mozzarella or asiago (optional)

sliced black olives (optional)

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add pasta. Two minutes before pasta is ready, add spinach and then drain.
  2. Coat the same pot with olive oil and toss in onion, garlic and dried herbs. Sauté until clear.
  3. Add the rinsed beans to the pan and toss. Put pasta and spinach mixture back in the pot and sauté for another minute, adding fresh herbs and cheese. Stir gently to thoroughly incorporate all ingredients, and serve.

DINNER IDEAS:

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER SALAD

½ head cauliflower

2 tbs. Olive Oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

1 tbsp capers

1 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, or more to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Cut florets into small pieces and toss with half the olive oil and the minced garlic
  2. Roast in a 400 degree oven for 10 mins. And then remove from oven and using tongs toss cauliflower so it cooks evenly on all sides
  3. Remove and let cool and then combine with the parsley, capers, olives, left over oil, lemon juice and seasonings, serve room temperature

CAULIFLOWER, POTATO AND HERB PUREE

½ head caulifower

3 medium Red Potatoes

1 tbs. Chopped fresh Rosemary or 1 tsp dried

Olive Oil

Parmesan Cheese opt.

  1. Wash potatoes and boil until they start to become tender

  2. Add cauliflower in small chunks and cook until it is soft and potatoes are completely tender

  3. Strain potato and cauliflower and place in a food processor, or use an old fashioned masher and blend until smooth, add oil if necessary

  4. Add chopped fresh rosemary and season with salt and pepper

RIBBON SALAD WITH GARLICKY VINAIGRETTE (RAW/VEGAN)

3 medium sized Zucchini

3 medium sized Summer Squash

1# bag of Carrots, peeled

2 cups Cabbage (green or Savoy) Shredded

DRESSING

4 cloves of garlic

¼ cup fresh parsley

¼ cup other fresh herbs you have on hand basil, cilantro or thyme choose just 1

¼ cup Raw Apple Cider Vinegar

½ cup cold pressed Olive Oil

Sea salt and pepper to taste

  1. Using a mandolin, or veggie slicer julienne thick threads of carrots and squash
  2. toss in the shredded cabbage
  3. in a blender, food processor or with an immersion blender, add the next 4 ingredients and blend while slowly adding the olive oil which will help to emulsify the dressing
  4. toss the dressing with the vegetables, season with salt and pepper and serve

Now let’s take these same noodles with out the dressing and do something completely different

  1. Toss in a pan with olive oil and garlic and cook until soft and top with Marinara or a Spicy Puttanesca
  2. If you have some pesto maybe you froze or a jar in the fridge saute up the noodles in that
  3. you can even add to some cooked spaghetti for a hearty pasta primavera

MINESTRONE

1 quart vegetable broth

1 15 oz. can kidney beans

1 cup ditalini pasta or rice if you are gluten free

1 15 oz can chopped tomatoes

1 onion diced

2 celery stalks diced

3 carrots diced

1 zucchini diced

1 tbs. dried oregano

1 tbs. dried basil

olive oil for cooking

salt and paper to taste

  1. In a large stockpot sauté garlic, onions, celery and carrots until soft
  2. Add tomatoes, beans and herbs, then cover with broth and bring to a boil
  3. Add pasta and zucchini then reduce heat and simmer for 10 mins until pasta is cooked

SHOPPING LIST

This weeks menu was chosen because many of the items are on special. My fruit suggestions are sale items. I encourage you to buy organic when you can as far as produce but following the dirty dozen is the most important. That said many organics are priced almost as low as their conventional counterparts, example carrots, bananas and sweet potatoes so I encourage you to make those choices, but staying on budget is important as well and any vegetables are better than none. I also realize many people using the planner will still be eating meat and may be supplementing these dishes with chicken and fish which is fine.

There are some basic pantry supplies I assume most have on hand. If you don’t, add these items to your weekly grocery list.

olive oil

red wine vinegar

cider vinegar

garlic

onions

celery

dried herbs and spices (oregano, basil, rosemary, crushed red pepper)

capers

sea salt

pepper

nuts

dried fruit

frozen fruit

PRODUCE

cauliflower 1head

potatoes

4 -5 zucchini

4 summer squash

5lb bag organic carrots (if you shop at Shaws it is a 2lb bag)

1 medium green cabbage

1 bunch basil

1 bunch parsley

lemons (much cheaper in the mesh bags)

large box of organic baby spinach

tomatoes

avocados

fresh fruit (cantalope, berries, grapefruits and oranges are on sale)

eggs

DRY GOODS:

2 cans diced tomatoes

white bean 1lb dry or 3 cans

1can of garbanzo beans

1 can of red beans

1 box orzo

1 box ditalini

1 box of penne

oats

2-3 quarts vegetable stock

I assume you will need additional items such as breads, tortillas, peanut butter and snacks that your family likes.

Keeping the Holidays Healthy

Keeping the Holidays Healthy

Each year the holidays come and between the stress and parties it is no wonder we all end up feeling lousy and unhealthy. Statistically Americans will gain an average of 3-5 lbs from Thanksgiving to New Years and 1 of those lbs will stay with us forever. Over a period of 10 years we will have gained 10 lbs just from Holiday indulgence. However it isn’t just the weight gain, it is also the time of year, due primarily to stress and lack of sleep, we inevitably end up getting sick. Believe it or not with a few simple changes you can keep yourself fit and trim and feeling energetic and healthy.

Boosting our Immune Systems:

Between all the decorating, shopping and partying we tend not to focus on taking proper care of our bodies. Feeding our bodies the right foods will help our immune system protect us from all the bacteria and viruses we are exposed to at crowded gatherings, which are unavoidable this time of year. The most critical of the antioxidant vitamins and minerals are Vitamins A, C and E and Selenium.

Foods Rich in Anti Oxidants:

All Fruits and Vegetables , Nuts, Omega 3 Eggs and Cold Water Fish

*Winter Squashes, Leafy Green and Orange vegetables are especially high in Vitamin A

*Citrus Fruits, Berries and Cruciferous vegetables are especially high in Vitamin C

*Wheat Germ, Almonds, Sunflower seeds and Tomatoes are high in Vitamin E

* Brazil Nuts, Dried Apricots, Eggs and some Whole grains are high in Selenium

*Cold water fish are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids which attacks inflammation

Simple ways to incorporate these foods into your everyday diet:

1-Homemade snack mixes; put together some nuts and dried fruits and keep with you at all times so when you do feel hungry you have a healthy choice on hand

2-Soups are a great way to cram a ton of vegetables into your body without even noticing

3-Keep raw vegetables cut up and on hand and snack on them throughout the day

Confidently battle Over-Indulgence :

When it comes to over eating during the holidays I have discovered 3 major causes

1)Food Gifts

2)Holiday Parties and Gatherings

3)Rushed for time; we grab whatever is easy

The solutions are almost as simple as the problems are themselves.

1) When it comes to food gifts the cardinal rule if it is not homemade, re-gift the item or throw it away. At least homemade gifts tend to be made from whole foods so they aren’t loaded with preservatives and chemicals.

2) As tempting as it may be to fast all day to make up for gorging at that evening’s party there is truly no bigger mistake. Instead be sure to have a protein and fiber rich snack before heading out. Think Hummus and Carrots or whole wheat pita or even an egg and whole grain toast. Don’t skip meals it shuts down your metabolism and if you go to a party famished don’t be surprised if you pig out.

3) We may not always have time to sit down and have a proper meal but having whole fruits, clementines and apples are a great choice this time of year because they are easily portable and full of vitamins, nuts are another must to have on hand.

Another key to surviving holiday overindulgence is to come up with some good alternatives to family favorites. I find this critical when it comes to Thanksgiving. If you have ever cooked the entire Thanksgiving feast yourself then you are aware of how much butter is used, for those of you who don’t cook but instead just eat, how does roughly 4lbs. of butter per 8 guests sound to you! There are some simple ways to change family recipes to make them healthier and there is nothing wrong with trying some new healthier recipes that are just as delicious.

One of the best ways to control Thanksgiving indulgence is starting the meal with a delicious velvety soup which can help fill you with fiber rich goodness but can also be the main course for the vegetarian or vegan guests at your holiday table. The soup is a classic squash bisque that uses sweet potato instead of cream to give it the beautiful texture and uses the same spices as our beloved pumpkin pie.

SQUASH AND APPLE BISQUE

2 lbs winter squash, peeled and cut in 1 inch pieces

2 lbs apples, roughly chopped

1lb sweet potato peeled and cubed

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 inch piece of fresh ginger grated

1tsp cinnamon

½ tsp clove

½ tsp nutmeg

1 quart+ vegetable stock or water

  1. Heat a large saucepan over medium heat; coat pan with cooking spray. Add garlic, ginger and onions and sauté for 5 mins or until onions are clear, add cinnamon
  2. Add apples, squash and the sweet potatoes and saute
  3. Add 1 quart + of broth and simmer until potatoes are very soft
  4. Let cool a bit and using a blender or food processor blend until smooth adding a bit more stock or water to get the tight consistency
  5. top with toasted pumpkin seeds or nuts for a bit of crunch and extra flair

Traditional Mashed Potatoes, instead try substituting chicken stock for the butter and milk and to give it some creaminess toss in a handful of parmesan cheese. Also substitute cauliflower for half the potatoes to up the fiber and lower the calories and starch. Be sure to use lots of fresh herbs like rosemary, garlic and parsley to give them great flavor without all the extra saturated fat.

Candied Yams or Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows: Instead opt for some roasted winter squashes which have lots more fiber and a much lower glycemic load and sweeten with a touch of blue agave or maple syrup instead of brown sugar.

Stuffing: again try using some chicken broth to reduce the amount of butter and if you are sautéing onions and other veggies to add to your stuffing use olive oil instead of butter, keep in mind oyster stuffing is a better option than sausage because those oysters are rich in heart healthy minerals which may counteract some of the other foods we eat that day! Even better add lots of veggies to your dressing and always cook your stuffing in a casserole dish, not stuffed in the bird to avoid food borne illness

Opt for a free-range turkey, when animals eat their natural diet, rather than a grain fed diet, their meet has the correct balance of essential fatty acids and is thus much healthier for us to eat, these are available for order at Friends

Make your own cranberry sauce and try using a little stevia or blue agave syrup to sweeten it rather than sugar. Also add some cinnamon which helps regulate insulin production

Green Bean Casserole: I think it is high time you encourage your family to give this one up if it still has a place on your holiday table, instead try blanching some fresh or frozen green Beans and then toss with some olive oil, lemon zest and some sliced almonds for a much healthier dish.

ROASTED BRUSSEL SPROUTS WITH CARAMELIZED ONIONS

1lb brussel sprouts

2 onions peeled and thinly sliced

olive oil for cooking

sea salt and pepper to taste

  1. in a bit of oil over low heat saute the onions stirring occasionally for 15-20 minutes or until caramelized

  2. trim brussel sprouts and cut an x in the bottom

  3. blanch brussel sprouts lightly and rinse in cool water

  4. toss brussel sprouts together with onions and a tablespoon of oil, season with salt and pepper

  5. place in a 375 degree oven for 8-10 minutes and serve

If you are in charge of bringing a side dish try bringing a salad for a change. You’ll be amazed at how well it goes over and for a festive touch toss in some dried cranberries and walnuts with a simple vinaigrette.

Pies: Here is the thing, as a food purist I have to say why mess with a good thing. Instead be sure to control your portion size and opt out of the ice cream. If you really love pumpkin pie and can’t imagine a small piece, skip the crust which has many more fat and calories than the filling. Also if you are making the pies opt for whole wheat pastry flour rather than regular bleached all-purpose flour, it is a change no one will notice but will add a bit of fiber to those pies.

During the Holiday season it is important to come up with some healthy snacks to have on hand to prevent you from over indulging on the many unhealthy foods you might find yourself surrounded by. It is far to easy to be tempted by the dishes of candies or cookies all over the place so the key to finding success is to make sure you don’t get too hungry. Hummus or bean dips are great this time of year because they are the perfect combination of protein and fiber to help keep you feeling full longer. Eat with fresh vegetables or make into a wrap tih some lettuce and sprouts for a hearty and healthy on the go snack.

CURRIED SWEET POTATO HUMMUS
1 large sweet potato, roasted until soft
1 can rinsed white beans
1 can rinsed garbanzo beans
3 garlic cloves
1 tbs curry powder
1 tsp. cumin
juice and zest of 1 lemon
olive oil and salted water** to get desired consistency

Peel Sweet Potato and place in a food processor with the next 6 ingredients.
Slowly add the oil and salted water alternating small bits of EACH to get desired consistency.
Making a salted water solution of 1/2 tsp Sea Salt per 1/4 cup water is the key to a perfect Hummus consistency without adding all the fat from oils.

If you have a sweet tooth the holidays can be a treacherous time of year. There are treats everywhere and were as the recipe above is designed to help keep you from getting hungry, this next recipe is a healthy treat that seems utterly decadent. Always use dark chocolate because once you introduce dairy to chocolate the ant-oxidant properties are wiped out.

HOLIDAY FRUIT AND NUT BARK

½ pound good quality dark chocolate, aim for at least 60% cacao

¾ cup chopped dried fruits (use what you like apricots, cherries, raisins or a combo)

½ cup walnuts

½ cup oats

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground clove

  1. on a rimmed cookie sheet spread out the oats and walnuts and sprinkle with cinnamon and cloves

  2. toast in a 325 degree oven for 8-10 mins or until lightly brown

  3. in a microwave or double boiler melt chocolate

  4. stir in nut and oat mix and chopped fruit

  5. line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper and press out the chocolate mixture into a thin even sheet about ¼ inch thick

  6. chill in regriferator until firm, break into bite size pieces and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for several weeks

Above all else, be smart about portions, if you eat until you feel sick, blame no one but yourself. By all means taste everything but most times a simple taste will do, and do try to load up with the veggies and turkey and go light on the stuffing and potatoes, never forget that the original Thanksgiving was a celebration of the harvest, and by the way after this feast most families survived on very little in the ensuing winter months.

 

The Grocery Store Challenge

Grocery store aisle.

About 10 years ago just, after I finished my coursework in nutrition, I started giving classes on How to Navigate the Grocery store. Soon after you could find loads of articles on-line and in magazines on how to tackle the massive grocery stores and find only the best quality whole foods, ideal for your health. The rules were simple, shop the perimeter, that is where you will find produce, seafood and meat and dairy (though if you have read any Optimal Kitchen blogs before you know I am a bit anti-dairy). Once you have stocked up on those whole foods do a quick check of the organic section for any dry goods you may need and your ready for the check out.
We should have known that once us nutritionists starting talking about the hidden dangers lurking within those aisles, that the supermarket companies would devise some kind of plan to get us back in there. Alas one of my local grocery stores has fallen victim to this type of deceptive marketing and this past month has completely rearranged the store and removed my beloved organic/health food section. Of course I was the obnoxious customer who asked why in god’s name they thought this new layout was beneficial to anyone. Keep in mind I had just spent 20 minutes looking for my organic tamari which I buy regularly. I was told they decided to co-mingle the organics with their conventional counterparts so that shoppers could do price comparisons and be more informed shoppers. Sounds good, right. Well, if that was the case why wasn’t the tamari in the Asian section next to all the other soy sauce products? If you can believe I found it next to the barbecue sauce, the only explanation I could muster was that they thought tamari was akin to terriyaki sauce and belonged with the marinades and bbq sauces!
All I can conclude from this absurd re-organization is that customers where getting too smart, and those looking to improve their health through the foods they eat were avoiding those center aisles, chock full of all sorts of unhealthy goods. But why would the store want customers to load up on those unhealthy processed foods, what difference does it make to them if you only buy produce and other whole food products? It is quite simple really, the mark-up on those processed goods is far greater than that of fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, eggs and even dairy. It is in the store’s best economic interest to get you in those middle aisles shopping so they will do all they can to drive you there. This is not meant to demonize grocery stores, which are a big part of any community’s economy, but it is meant to inform you that you these practices exist and why they do. Ideally we would all be getting the majority of our food from local farmer’s markets or co-ops but that is simply not realistic. Instead I urge you to try and shop at smaller, locally owned grocery stores that don’t decide to re-arrange the store every year simply to keep customers wandering the aisles, eyes glazed over simply throwing things into their cart because they are unable to find the goods they really want and need.
Where we choose to spend our money will have a great impact on how stores operate. If you decide to no longer frequent those mega grocery chains, even though it might save you some money and instead shop at your local farmer’s market and specialty stores, we might just change how these stores operate. Knowing who and where your food comes from is definitely worth the extra cost. And remember when you support local stores you support your community not some corporation.

 

 

A Dose of Reality Nutrition

Perhaps it is because I just returned from vacation, where I had  some free time to read up on recent Nutrition news, that I am sitting here cringing from much of the information out there on the web.  What strikes me as fundamentally screwy is that almost every nutrition blog I read connects to some e-commerce site where they try and sell you some magical potion or powder to improve whatever ailment you may be suffering from.  I am not here to sell you anything, but I am here to tell you that good nutrition is key to lifelong health and wellness. 

What we eat profoundly affects our bodies, and no amount of exercise can make up for a poor dietconsisting of sugar and fat laden processed foods.  In fact 80% of weight loss comes from dietary changes, not exercise, so as much as I support being active everyday, what we eat is far more critical to our bodies ability to function optimally.

First I want to address the issue of supplements which is what I see pandered most on the internet.  I am going to be bold enough to go out there and say “how is it humankind managed to survive hundreds of thousand of years without supplements, which have only been popular for the last half century.”  The answer is easy, we ate a variety of whole foods, primarily plants, vegetables, grains and fruits, with a bit of meat, eggs, and either some butter or lard to make it all taste good.  We have had access to some sweet foods for a few hundred years, but history books make it quite clear that these were luxuries that only a few could afford and only occasionally.  Can you imagine?  We managed to get the nutrients we needed to not only to survive but to thrive as a species from the simple foods we ate.  Ok, I will concede that herbs and spices have always been a vital part of health and nutrition and even though Tumeric may be sold in capsule form today, I do not consider any culinary or medicinal herbs that grow on this planet to be supplements.

My issue with supplements is simply the fact that manufactured forms of vitamins and minerals are never as readily absorbed and used by our bodies as when they are consumed in foods in which they naturally occur. Here is an example, for many years consumers bought and used Calcium Carbonate as a supplement to prevent bone loss which could lead to osteoporosis.  However after decades on the market, we  realized that without the presence of Vitamin C the body did not absorb the calcium so the money spent on all those calcium carbonate supplements quite literally was flushed down the toilet.  Now companies pander Calcium Citrate which contains Vitamin C to aid absorption, but keep in mind every food that is rich in Calcium, dark green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables and many types of seafood have copious amounts of vitamin C present already.  Mother nature makes sure to create foods that match our bodies actual needs.  This same rule applies to Iron, so when you wonder why if you are prescribed an iron supplement and your doctor tells you to take it with orange juice, this is the reason.  But again if you ate copious amounts of greens and some red beans you probably would not need an iron supplement.

Another example is the explosion of probiotics on the market.  Did you know that most probiotics are found in healthy soil?  Our current system of farming which depletes the soil of these organisms is the reason so many of us lack the proper intestinal flora living in our gut.  Refrigeration has also eliminated the need for fermenting foods which was the other way humans have insured they had enough probiotics in their system for centuries.  Purchasing organic or even better biodynamic produce from your local farmer is a great way to get a wide variety of probiotics into your system.

It is always best to get the nutrients you need from the abundance of healthy foods available to us, they are designed especially for human consumption with nutrients that simply are not understood.  I encourage clients to shift some of the money they spend on these pricey supplements and instead improve the quality of the foods they purchase and eat.  However there are those suffering from illness and malnutrition that may need an extra boost of particular Vitamins and Minerals and for those  people supplements may be the best way to go, in addition to improving their overall diet to include massive amounts of fresh vegetables and fruits. But these people are more unique than mainstream.

Our addiction to these expensive and untested supplements proves an unwillingness to make the difficult changes to our diet to ensure our good health.  So many of us would rather eat a burger or pizza and take a handful of pills than eat a nutrient rich vegetable stew or a bowl of fruit salad.  History proves to us that feeding ourselves has always been challenging and it consumes a significant amount of our energy and resources.  How we face and address those challenges today is very different from our past and the state of disease in this country should be a warning bell that we may not be making the best decisions for our bodies.

As always remember GOOD HEALTH STARTS WITH GOOD FOOD

 

 

The Challenge of Healthy Eating

Perhaps it is due to my chosen field,  but everyday my Facebook feed is bombarded with images and stories about how  this food can promise weight loss or increased libido or whatever health issue they are focusing on to sell their product.  Remember in the end they are almost always trying to sell you a product.  First off let me tell you, I am not trying to sell you anything and secondly most of these promises are simply bogus.

Bizarrely enough the world of nutrition is a fairly new science, pretty incredible when you think about the fact that we have been eating, well FOREVER! But here is the thing , how we as a nation feed ourselves has dramatically changed over the past 75 years or so.  All I can speak to is the past 45 years since that is my lifespan but, wow have I seen some huge shifts.

Let’s think about how we shop. I am a city girl so large supermarkets were never where my family shopped, but even those stores in the 1970’s and 80’s were a fraction of the size they are today offering a lot fewer choices to the consumer.  So we shopped at the butcher, the fishmonger, the baker and the green grocer for most of our food.  Sure we went to the grocer for household products, orange juice and pet food but not much else.  Things are much different today in the world of giant super stores.

If you find yourself shopping in these stores, going up and down each aisle filling your cart, that is the first mistake you are making with your health.  If you purchase anything in a bag or a box, you are putting your health at risk on some level, and the environment but that is another issue for a different day.  Now I am a realist and I know there are many of you out there that can’t fathom filling your cart with nothing but whole, fresh foods that actually have to be washed, prepped and cooked, but for centuries, this is how humans ate so it should not surprise any of us that they way we are eating today is not just unhealthy, but truly unsustainable.

On an evolutionary level, and let us remember that 75 years is a blink on the evolutionary scale, our bodies simply cannot adjust quickly enough to all the dietary changes we have seen and our ballooning weight and rise in obesity as a nation is simply one example of that.  What is worse is that we keep creating products that we think will solve these issues only to find out given time that we made a colossal error.  A great example of this is margarine.  I remember margarine rising in fame in the 1980’s as a way to combat that demonic butter that leads to high cholesterol.  Boy were we wrong there! Studies now show how margarine is in fact one of the WORST things you can eat and butter and even lard are coming back in favor.  Well let’s just say humans have been eating lard every since we began eating meat, 100,000’s of years ago ,and we have been eating butter for around 10,000 years, so we can prove that on an evolutionary scale we are designed to eat and even thrive eating these foods.

Here is the thing though, feeding ourselves shouldn’t be this hard.  Life is stressful enough with out adding the challenge of feeding ourselves and our families healthy foods.  So the best advice I can give for anyone out there who wants to improve their health through the foods you eat remember this; there are no magic potions or super foods that on their own will dramatically change the shape of your body or your overall health.  Eating well takes some effort and if you simply hate to cook you better find a prepared food store that makes healthy foods from scratch, because shopping in the freezer section of your grocery store or relying on take-out doesn’t cut it.  Eating well is a challenge, but dealing with a chronic illness due to poor diet is a lot harder to deal with, so why not take a pro active stance now and try to improve your everyday diet.

I will make it easy for you since actionable steps are the best way to attain success.  Here is a goal for your next shopping trip; TRY TO CUT BACK ON YOUR PROCESSED FOOD PURCHASES BY HALF,  AND — USE THE MONEY YOU SAVE TO BUY FRESH PRODUCE.  This one step is a great start and check back in a couple of days to see what new suggestions the Optimal Kitchen has in store for you.

What’s New at The Optimal KItchen

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Thai Noodle Salad 

Each week The Optimal Kitchen offers a variety of selections to customers most of which are vegan, many are gluten free and there are even vegan paleo options.  After years of educating and empowering the residents of Cape Cod to make healthy food part of their everyday lifestyle, I realized for many, they did not have the time or desire to prepare healthy foods for themselves.  In response to this community need and after years of searching for a commercial kitchen space, The Optimal Kitchen has been able to move to the next level.

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Morrocan Farro Salad

Not only are the foods offered at The Optimal Kitchen designed to help you achieve your individual health goals, they are an economical solution for the single person or even couples to incorporate healthy foods into their everyday diet.  Many of the dishes offered by the Optimal Kitchen use exotic and expensive ingredients, but by cooking in bulk and portioning it out for the individual we are able to offer these incredibly healthy and delicious foods at affordable prices.  Another bonus is an attempt to reduce food waste.  More than 2 decades as a professional Chef has taught us how to make the most of our ingredients and re-purpose them so there is little to no waste.  An example is that all vegetable stocks are house made from the peels and scraps of vegetables that went into your salads and soups.  So for those of you out there struggling after years of preparing foods for a family to pare down to cooking for just one or two people, The Optimal Kitchen healthy prepared foods are perfect for you!

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Weekly Menu Board

When possible locally sourced and organic ingredients are used, but focus is always placed on affordability.  Therefore, I will never claim to be completely organic, but I will claim to always be healthy.  So come on by the Orleans Farmer’s Market and pick yourself up some of these delicious, healthy and affordable foods and you may just realize you won’t have to cook anymore!

TOK Tackles Food Waste

Food waste is a huge problem, so much more than you can imagine.  You might look at your own  trash and think ,”oh that isn’t too bad.” Here is the problem, take your personal food waste and multiply it a thousand times and that is you local grocery store not to mention major growers and food producers who are the ones creating a constant waste stream of food that in this chef and nutritionist’s view is often made up of delicious and nutritious foods.  A handful of entrepreneurs have come on the scene and are finding creative ways of using food that would otherwise be bound for landfills and selling them to the public.

A recent trip to my local Stop and Shop last  Friday allowed me to score these 3 trays of raspberries for a $1.50.  Had a purchased the same raspberries the night before,  I would have spent around $50,but since the produce manager viewed them as less than perfect they were in the cart destined for what I hope was the compost heap,  but what was most likely the dumpster.  After emptying the containers on paper lined sheet pans and examining the berries I found only 3 that had a bit of spot mold and needed to be thrown away.  Ironically I have bought raspberries at full price that were a lesser quality than these.  Luckily I know that spreading berries out like this extends their life, and taking those same trays and placing them in the freezer allows me to IQF (individually quick freeze) these delicious berries so we can enjoy them in the weeks and months ahead.

The Optimal Kitchen is about empowering clients to learn how to tackle the challenges of feeding you and your family healthy whole foods in affordable ways and reducing your personal food waste is a critical part of this process.  Below are some simple ideas on how to ensure less of the food you grow or buy ends up in the compost or trash.

  1. Make your own STOCK: this is one of the best things you can do to reduce waste and save a ton of money.  Save all vegetable scraps, items like carrot peels, onion skins, tomato tops and the likes in a ziploc bag in your freezer.  Once the bag is full empty into a stock pot, cover with water and simmer for several hours and then strain.  You will have a delicious, sodium free vegetable stock to use immediately or to freeze and safe for the future.  Most vegetable scraps are perfect for stock but avoid cucumber skins (due to wax coating), and potato skins which make your stock a bit starcy.
  2. Make your own fruit Vinegar: When you have bruised peaches, berries, apples or the like don’t throw them away.  Take those fruits and place them in a glass jar and cover with some distilled white vinegar and some water and cover with cheesecloth.  Let it sit in a cool dark spot for a few weeks and then strain and place in a glass bottle and you will have a great flavored vinegar to make your own salad dressings.
  3. COMPOST:  this is not a food item you are creating but your food scraps do become a valuable soil amendment for your vegetable or flower gardens.  If you don’t want to deal with composting please take the time to find a friend or neighbor who does and consider collecting your vegetable scraps for them.

These are a few simple ideas that will save you a bit of green as well as help to keep our planet a bit greener.  Remember:  Every time you throw food in the trash you are throwing money away and if you are like me you work way to hard to throw valuable money into the trash!20151106_134612_resized